Review of London elections calls for changes in law ahead of 2012

The London Assembly has called for changes in the law ahead of the 2012 London Mayor and Assembly elections, following a review of the lessons from last year’s council and general election in London.

Two issues are likely to meet widespread support, namely the problems of voters being intimidated and people being left still queuing when polls closed at 10pm. Both issues were significant problems in specific parts of London last year.

The report says:

The difficulties identified include most significantly a number of instances where there were queues at polling stations and people were unable to vote. Our report highlights the confusion in applying the electoral law to enfranchise the voter that led in some instances to a breach of election rules. We therefore recommend a change in electoral law to prevent a repeat of the disenfranchisement of so many people in London and across England. Without a change in the law there will need to be new guidance to Returning Officers as to how they can better prepare to deal with any late surge of voters.

A further significant issue addressed in this report is how to stop the intimidation of voters that is taking place at some polling stations. Clear advice to polling staff and consistency in how that advice is acted upon is necessary to tackle this unacceptable behaviour.

More controversial is likely to be the report’s call for a repeal of the legislation introduced last year to ensure overnight counting of votes for the general election.

The bigger issue that was not covered by this review, by virtue of its remit, is the mistakes made in counting votes at the last London elections. As I wrote at the time:

In the immediate aftermath of this May’s London Mayor and Assembly elections, it became clear that some mistakes had been made during the count. Some Mayor votes in Merton and Wandsworth were omitted from the count, and in addition the checking process was flawed as votes were reported from more wards than exist in London.

Both the Open Rights Group and the Electoral Commission identified further problems, with my summary of the Electoral Commission’s verdict still valid:

In other words, “the numbers don’t add up; we don’t know why; it might be bad, it might not be; but there wasn’t a proper audit trail so we’re all left clueless.”

Counting the votes correctly and having a proper system for checking that the results are right is by far the most important change that needs to happen for the 2012 elections.

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